Sunday May 29th, 2016
Maidin Mhaith i Baile Átha Cliath
Waking up on my first morning in Ireland, I felt surprisingly good, despite the large quantity of Guinness consumed the night prior. I had the day to myself to wander and explore Dublin. I wanted to learn more about the city’s history, the religious and political turmoils and the events of The Easter Rising. The easiest way to do that was to be a proper tourist for a few hours and go on a walking tour.
Blessed with another sunny day, I passed The Spire and walked speedily south down O’Connell St over the Liffey to College Green (Irish: Faiche an Choláiste), the tour meeting place. Flanked by the Bank of Ireland (formerly the Parliament House), 19th century buildings (again mostly banks) and Trinity College, College Green has been a major assembly point for hundreds of years. Less green than it’s name would imply, College Green is a large area of the street that is, as with much of Dublin this summer, under heavy construction installing the new LUAS rail tracks. I’m hoping my Canadian city will follow suit and get some decent transit lines running soon, but I digress.
Known way back when as Hoggen Green (haugr meaning mound, or barrow in Old Norse), the burial mounds once at College Green cemetery may have been the final resting place of some of the Norse kings of Dublin.
Now, beside the rushing traffic, honking horns, and bustling students, a small group of people gather in front of the statue of Edmund Burke. He was a witty 18th century Irish author, satirist, politician and philosopher who criticized British treatment of the American colonies, including the taxation policies. John Henry Foley created this statue in the 1860s.
Standing in Trinity College, Parliament Square, we are surrounded by interesting buildings and structures including the Regent House, Old Library and Campanile.
The latter is an iconic bell tower finished in 1853. It was donated by then Archbishop of Armagh, Lord John Beresford, designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and sculpted by Thomas Kirk.
According to college superstition, any student who passes beneath the campanile as the bells tolls will fail their exams. Many students apparently avoid passing underneath until they finish their studies! The sculptures of the campanile represent the Higher Faculties: Divinity, Science, Medicine and Law, in figures of portland stone.
No Catholics Allowed
I was surprised to learn that not only did the college remained completely Protestant until 1793, but even after, when Catholics were allowed to attend the school, the Catholic Church deemed any Catholic who chose to enrol there (without special permission) to be excommunicated. It wasn’t until 1970 that the Catholic Church lifted it’s ban.
Gather on the Green
Our next stop is right smack in the middle of the intersection at the centre of College Green. This space is historically a gathering place.
We hear a few anecdotes about Henry Grattan (3 July 1746 – 6 June 1820), one of the leading members of the old Irish Parliament. His figure stands facing Trinity College in the form of a 19th-century statue. Grattan campaigned for legislative freedom for the Irish Parliament.
Our group admires the graceful ionic columns of the Bank of Ireland, once the Irish Houses of Parliament (House of Lords). Built in 1729-39. this was the 1st purpose built and two chamber parliament house in the world.
In 1803, it was sold to the Bank of Ireland on the condition that it would never house parliament again, because being under British rule, there was no need for such purposes anyways, right? After all, National parliament was in Westminster and they wanted to stifle local governance/autonomy of the isle.
Essentially due to public rowdiness and civil unrest (not to mention that the bank probably wouldn’t have given up the sweet digs), the building never did house parliament again. The original Irish House of Lords had requested the entrance be built directly off the street on the college green to allow for dramatic entrances and grand exits, but in the volatile civil war of 1922 the location was less satisfactory and Leinster House was preferred, for being set back from the street front and more easily secured to hold parliament.
From Ulysses to U2
Finally moving onwards, we head West down College Green and take a quick right onto the cobbled Lane of Anglesea Street. I am grateful to have moved on, off the busy roads. We admire a mural of Ulysses on a hotel wall and our guide asks if we’ve read it and if we believe Marilyn Monroe actually read the whole thing. I’m kind of tired of this, even though some of the information is valuable, or at least mildly entertaining. I retain very little of it under the hot noon sun as we zigzag through the streets of Temple Bar, visit a National Photograpic Archive exhibit on the Easter Rising and test our Irish music knowledge of the photo portraits outside the Rock N Roll Experience. Could anyone name an Irish musician other than Bono? (Let’s bloody hope so). All this and it’s only half past noon.
The Auld City at St Audoen’s
Heading further west our group ends up at one of the two remaining stretches of the old city wall aboveground and the sole surviving city gate at St Audoen’s. I plop down on the first patch of grass I’ve seen since Trinity College and rest while the guide explains how this gate would have been one of the main entrances into the medieval city, through the Hiberno-Norse wall in the 13th century.
We backtrack to Winetavern Street and wind our way around the many neighbouring churches, most impressive being the Gothic/Romanesque structure of Christ Church Cathedral. This Cathedral location has been dated as early as 1030. The Norse King and first Bishop of Dublin and Sitriuc, Dúnán, the first bishop of Dublin, founded the original Viking church. By 1152 it was incorporated into the Irish church. It’s since undergone many reforms, renovations and restorations.
The green lawn around the Church is a welcoming public space, filled with picnickers and tourists. We don’t stop for food yet, although my stomach is grumbling, the tour moves on to Dublin Castle. Caisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath dates mostly from the 18th century. It used to be the seat of the UKs government’s administration in Ireland until 1922, and is now a major Irish government complex. A castle has stood on the site since the days of King John, the first Lord of Ireland in the early 13th century.
That concludes the tour. It’s by donation, pay the guide before you leave. I’m happy it’s finished. Not that it wasn’t a good tour: I learned a lot, walked a ways and spotted some areas to explore further. In fact, I’d recommend it to newcomers wanting a basic look at the city. Walking tours often provide tips for places to go and things to see, but I am more than ready to leave the tourist herd and travel at my own pace and pick my own places. I do still want to return to Trinity College and visit the library to see the infamous Book of Kells, eat some lunch, then continue my explorations of Dublin! TBC.